Salisbury, MD Leeks! If you haven't tried them, you really should; they are truly an under-utilized veggie on Delmarva. The Gardening Grannies believe that not only are they milder and sweeter than onions, but they are easier to digest…a fact not lost on the Grannies.
If you are not familiar with leeks, they have an onion-like top and grow about a foot tall….a little more or less depending upon the type seed you plant and your growing conditions. They are incredibly easy to grow. The Grannies would say "fool proof" but, that's kind of like saying "you can't possibly miss it" when you give directions. We shouldn't tempt fate on this one because this is a vegetable with many uses and we'd love for you to try it. The Grannies most frequently use leeks in soups and stews. Granny Griffith, just as Welsh as her name, uses hers almost exclusively in leek and potato soup. Granny Greenthumb prefers hers grilled or sautéed and sometimes adds them to vegetables that need a little more "zing". She's Italian, need I say more? Other Grannies slip leeks into recipes that call for scallions, braise them or add them to fried potatoes.
"OK", you're thinking, "These Grannies might just be onto something. What do I do next?" We thought you would never ask!
Growing leeks is simple. "Lancelot" or "American Flag" are two excellent varieties available at most of your local seed suppliers, so that's your first stop. You can start your seeds two to three months prior to your average last frost date. In the Salisbury, MD, area, the "50/50" date is somewhere between April 5 and April 12, depending on whose chart you are putting your faith in. The "50/50" date is the date on which half the last frost in any given area occurs before and half occurs after. If you take April 5, as Granny Griffith does (and she has paid dearly in the past for going out early), and you count back three months, you get January 5th. That would be the earliest date you should consider. Most of the Gardening Grannies started their seeds this past weekend.
To start your seeds, take a container with drainage a couple inches deep filled with the starting medium of your choice. These choices range from packaged starting mixes to enriched garden soil and a plethora of choices in between. Fill with soil to within an inch or two of the top of your container. Water it well. Sprinkle seeds over the moistened potting mix and cover with one quarter to one half inch of soil mixture, following instructions on the seed packet. Pat down the soil and place the container in a bright window or under grow lights. It should take about two weeks for your seedlings to emerge. For you new gardeners, please remember to NOT let the soil dry out during this stage.
If the emerging seedlings are VERY crowded, you may want to pull a few to give the others some temporary growing room. Generally, leek seedlings will survive reasonable crowding until planting out time and then, with more space they will absolutely thrive! Baby leeks look a lot like spring onions. To plant them out, water well and gently separate them, setting them out about four inches apart. The Grannies plant them out slightly deeper than they were growing in the container and then, as they grow, add an inch or two of mulch. This helps keep direct sun from drying out the soil and gives you a longer white portion of the leeks. Leeks are slow-growing and require about three months from setting them out to putting them on the table.
Next time, we'll share some favorite recipes.
Gardening Grannies, a group of avid and Master Gardeners, live, love and garden on the Delmarva Peninsula. You can reach us at firstname.lastname@example.org.